Sal Abruscato has been in his share of amazing bands. Starting in Type O Negative and then joining Life Of Agony, he was deeply involved in the metal, hardcore and goth scenes in the ‘90s. Later on, Sal went on to form the band Supermassiv. We mostly know Sal as a drummer and not as a “do it all” kind of guy, but with his new band, A Pale Horse Named Death, Sal set out to do something he’s been wanting to do for over 10 years: to perform all instruments, including vocals. Impossible? Not according to Sal!
It’s so great to see you come around full circle to this amazing project. How did this band come about?
This band has been brewing since January 2009. I was musically frustrated and wanted to challenge myself in different ways. I wanted to work more. As you know, Life Of Agony isn’t very active. I wanted to fulfill some musical desires that I always had: doing an album my way, myself.
I was watching the History Channel and there was something on about Revelations. They were talking about the four horsemen and the pale horse, so I did a play on words in my head and I came up with the name and I just set forth. I did production in my house and basically Matt Brown engineered and produced the album with me. He also did some performances on the album.
At the same time, when I started writing the record, I started going through a divorce. That fueled a bit more angst and anger into the record, and depression. So we pretty much began the actual recording of the record in November 2009, and went through June 2010.
During that time, I had just started vocals then Peter Steele passed away. And that fueled even more emotion into the album. It was basically me setting forth wanting to do a record my way. I had my own plans, no pressure, no plans to make a certain sounding record, we took our time, I did what I wanted to do. I didn’t care if it would do well on radio or not. I just combined melody withy dark heavy shit underneath it.
Finished June 2010, put songs on MySpace, a little spiel here and there. At first Napalm Records wanted to sign it, and it didn’t work out with them. Then SPV got involved, and they’ve been so incredible about the record, they believe in it so much.
As you and I know, I’ve been doing this a long time. I was closing in on 40 when this all started. If I don’t take things in my own hands, nothing is going to happen. I played basically all the instruments on the record, vocals, guitar, bass and drums. Bobby Hambel from Biohazard did three songs, Keith Caputo [Life of Agony] did background vocals and Rich Krieger did saxophone [from Lou Reed’s band].
I was going all “Trent.” When Trent [Reznor] does a record, he’s in full control and puts out the vision he has in head without any interference.
Was the original vision for you to do this yourself or start a new band?
I’ve been pondering this idea for 10 years; I just didn’t have the right situation or motivation to spark it. I played guitar now and then, and I wrote a song here and there for Life Of Agony. After being in music for so long and playing drums for 30 years, I want to see if I can play every instrument and pull it off. It was a personal musical challenge, a personal goal to do it. If people like it, great, if not, so what—I’m doing this for myself. I’m doing this to have one album where I pulled off this crazy idea. It’s not easy to do this—compose, write the lyrics from top to bottom.
How did you meet Matt Brown?
Met in 1991, he was in a band—Uranium 235. They would open for Type O Negative and they were put on the local stuff when we played with Type O Negative and Life Of Agony. So we were friends and connected back then.
In 2002, he and I did an EP—the band was called Supermassive. Our vocalist was Billy Kelly, and we had a great thing going on. There was label interest but our singer was a heroin user and died of an overdose. Then a few months later, Life Of Agony decided to reunite in 2003. But Matt and I stayed close. He came out on tour as a tech, so I always looked out for him and always hooked him up with work. He’s an engineer, so I helped him out. I hooked him up with Seventh Void too. When I did all these songs, he heard them and he said “Dude, we gotta do this, this is amazing.” And then we went full speed ahead together. We have a long history, me and him.
So you made this music all by yourself, how were you going to bring this to life in a live show?
The first person I spoke to was Bobby Hambel. He loved the material and dropped his solos in a matter of a few hours. Then I mentioned I’d love for him to do part of it if it goes live, and he was totally into it. We did two shows. Monster Magnet at Starland was our first show. It was like popping a cherry and we just did a show at Dingbatz recently and that show was great. We were more prepared, more comfortable being in a room together. Then one time I was talking to Johnny, he was like, “Hey, if you need a drummer, let me know, I really dig the material.” Seventh Void was already on the Monster Magnet show, so Johnny jumped in and started rehearsing with us.
I got an old friend named Eric Morgan, who is an amazing musician. My agent called me and asked if I wanted to play Starland with Monster Magnet. At that time, it was five weeks before the show. I agreed to it, but had no band. So I was all over the place, right into rehearsal. Bobby lives in Florida and came in three days before the show, so we had those three days to rehearse. It was a lot of pressure—of course at your debut show, people like to hate and be critical and pick on you. There’s also talks and some offers for September, it’s too early for me to name anything but SPV is putting a lot into us and they believe this will do very well.
Do you see your Type O Negative and Life Of Agony fans following you here?
All the Type O Negative fans are the ones giving me the most love. They seem to have gravitated toward this music very quickly and have been very supportive. Life Of Agony fans are a different group of people. There’s a handful of them that write in, but 95 percent of them are Type O Negative fans looking for something new to listen to. They like dark and depressing. This isn’t hardcore or mosh pit music. We also get a lot of fans that don’t have anything to do with both. We have big Alice in Chains fans, A Perfect Circle type of fans, but not a whole lot of love from Life Of Agony fans. I think they’re kind of bitter, and they’ve never been supportive of any of our side projects because I guess they just want to see Life Of Agony stay together and put a new record out. And I think they think, “Well, if we don’t support them, maybe they’ll go back to Life Of Agony and put out another record.” But Life Of Agony is on the brink of extinction because bands in the last four years have caught up with the fact that you can play the same old stuff. No talks of a new album and still sell out shows.
Where do you get some of your inspiration and motivation from when you write?
Some of it is life experiences, some are experiences of knowing stuff other people experienced. Then there’s fantasy mixed in there. There’s a song called “When A Crow Descends Upon You.” That was from me watching the move The Birds in its entirety. That movie put an impression on me, and the very next day this idea flowed out of me and I put a twist on it. Seeing the birds come down on this woman, chasing her, I envisioned these birds were the Devil’s minions to take the person’s black soul away.
I’m also impressed by these Discovery programs about serial killers, murder/suicides—that fascinates me. How does it all work inside that person’s brain and what makes him or her tick and what gives them the courage to take someone’s life away and possibly enjoying it? So I like mixing a lot of fantasy with reality and real experiences, and I look at every song like a movie, and it’s more of a visual. That’s why I write lyrically in a vague way that can be interpreted different ways. I’m a little creative that way. I like mixing the truth with the non-truth and creating a crazy scene. I have a song called “Devil In A Closet.” It’s about every person’s fear when they were a kid sleeping in their room alone, and if the door was left open a little bit from that dark closet, you’d be freaking out and having nightmares. That’s how I was like when I was a kid, and I’m sure lots of other people were too.
A Pale Horse Named Death is having a listening party for their debut album, And Hell Will Follow Me, on Thursday May 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Idle Hands Bar 25 Avenue B, in NYC. Find more information at apalehorsenameddeath.com.